Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk (13) could return to the lineup Thursday against the Panthers. (David Guralnick / Detroit News)
Detroit — Pavel Datsyuk hopes he is done watching games on television in the Red Wings locker room.
“It’s frustrating to watch,” said Datsyuk, who hasn’t played since Jan. 1 but appears set to rejoin the lineup Thursday night in Florida. “It makes me more nervous. I can’t help the team in the locker room watching. It’s better to play.”
Datsyuk skated on a line with Darren Helm and Daniel Alfredsson during Wednesday’s practice at City Rink and expressed optimism afterward that he could return.
“It feels better every day,” said Datsyuk, who has been out with what’s been called a lower-body injury (believed to be a knee). “I’m skating with the team, (so) it’s more fun, more enjoyable. (I have) more confidence.”
Datsyuk will make a final determination after the morning skate.
“When he’s out there, he takes a lot of attention off other players,” goalie Jimmy Howard said.”That’s going to be good for our younger players.”
With the Sochi Winter Olympics beginning next week, Datsyuk — the captian of the Russian team — is racing to get healthy and be ready for that tournament, as well.
“Everybody is feeling the pressure, but I need to be smart and make the right decision,” Datsyuk said.
And that decision looks to be solely Datsyuk’s.
“He has to decide, not me,” said coach Mike Babcock, when asked how ready Datsyuk looked. “He has to be comfortable he’s playing. There’s a lot on the line for him. The Olympics are in his country and he wants to play.”
If Datsyuk is activated, defenseman Jakub Kindl will be put on short-term injured reserve.
Kindl didn’t skate Wednesday because a lower-body injury and Babcock already has ruled him out for Thursday’s game in Florida.
The Red Wings haven’t fared well against the two Florida teams this season.
They’re 1-1-2 against the Panthers and 0-1-2 against the Lightning, who they play Saturday.
“They have (played the Red Wings tough) but that’s what you expect every single night,” Howard said. “You expect every team’s ‘A’ game.”
The Panthers are near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings but have shown glimpses of a team that could be dangerous in the future.
And with Tim Thomas (Davison) in net, the Panthers have been tough on a lot of teams.
“Talent, size, speed,” Babcock said of why the Panthers have been competitive. “When you’re bad long enough, you wind up with good players. Tampa (also) has a lot of good players that are coming.”
Stephen Weiss (hernia) took part in Wednesday’s practice.
Weiss hasn’t played since Dec. 10 and had surgery two weeks later.
Weiss will skate with his former junior team, the Plymouth Whalers, during the Olympic break and likely play two or three games with Grand Rapids in a conditioning stint.
The aim is still to return Feb. 26 in Montreal, the first game after the break.
Weiss didn’t have any pain Wednesday while skating.
“It’s a good feeling that way rather then the other way,” Weiss said. “Getting through without any issues was a great time.”
Howard will get the start against the Panthers.
… Jonas Gustavsson, who left Monday’s game with dizziness, practiced Wednesday and is available to play.
… Helm has gone without a point in eight games since returning from a groin injury.
“He just needs game reps and the more detailed he’ll become,” said Babcock, who feels the amount of time Helm has missed factors into the equation. “You feel great when you’re fresh, and when you’re tired, the details in your game go out the window.
“He’s an important part of our team, just because of his tenacity. We need his details to get up to speed.”